Michigan legislature passes bill banning college athlete unions

Tuesday December 16th, 2014

The Michigan state legislature has passed a bill that would ban student-athletes at state public universities from unionizing. 

The bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives last week and the Senate on Tuesday, will now be sent to Michigan governor Rick Snyder for final passage. 

The legislation passed both chambers on a largely party-line vote, with Republicans generally supporting the legislation and Democrats opposed. Two Republican senators voted against the bill, while one Democrat voted for it. The House passed the bill on a strictly party-line vote. 

Earlier this year, Northwestern University football players -- led by former quarterback Kain Colter -- petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to unionize, arguing that members of the team were employees of the school. The Chicago chapter of the NLRB approved the petition, though the university has appealed the decision. Northwestern football players took a vote on whether to certify their union in April, but the results of the vote are undisclosed. 

Despite the traditional strength of unions in Michigan due to the auto industry's strong presence in the state, Gov. Snyder has signed laws weakening unions during his time in office. In 2012, Snyder signed a pair of controversial bills -- so called "right-to-work" laws -- that drew national attention for their strong stance toward unions. 

Michigan Rep. Al Pscholka, a Republican, introduced the legislation earlier this month during the legislature's lame duck session, which is ongoing. 

“The discussion of this issue really begs an answer to the bigger question: What is the intended purpose of college?” Pscholka said in a statement at the time the bill was introduced. “Is it about making money, or is it about getting an education? Are student-athletes to learn, guaranteeing the best shot at future success in life? Or are they enrolled as employees just there to pull in money and attention to the university?”

Students from Michigan public universities -- including athletics heavyweights University of Michigan and Michigan State University -- have not signaled that they intend to unionize. 


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